John Sinclair – Beatnik Youth – Double CD – review by Steve Fly Amsterdam, 2017

The story of the Beatnik Youth album begins in London. John Sinclair was visiting to perform with guitarist Al Clayton and his band The Dirty Strangers, Gigs organised in part by Ian Grant, including a double bill with Zodiac / Youth. Martin ‘Youth’ Glover came into John’s orbit and found a kindred spirit in John, proposing they work on a jazz project together. 

Sure enough plans were laid out for John to travel to Kingston College Of Music in London, to a recording session set up by Youth. The list of musicians in the large room was staggering: George Butler, Hugo Wilkinson and Steven Pratt on drums, Al Clayton and Brian James and James Sedwards on guitars, Youth on bass, Angie Brown and Mark Stewart on vocals, Alex Ward on saxophones and piano, Michael Rendall on organ plus recording duties. The energy in the room was huge.

John’s words switched from a whisper to a roar, screaming against the wall of guitars for his old gang, and then undressing the piano with a hushed prayer to Thelonious Monk. The musicians tracked all afternoon and managed to subtly fuse straight ahead rock & roll with a jazz sensibility, and a tonal blanket of sound that exploited all the instrumentalists and vocalists at the session.

Over the next 12 months, Youth, John and Michael Rendall edited, shaped and overdubbed new parts to create Beatnik Youth V. 1.0. New editions included such UK heads as Bobby Gillespie and Howard Marks R.I.P who added the perfect authentic taste to an underground classic. The late great Mick Farren penned some delightful liner notes, and Ian Grant of track records, quickly produced a small run of 300 copies on compact disk. Due to unforeseen obstacles, Beatnik Youth 1.0 was never properly released, and so sat as an unreleased album project, poems and sound in purgatory.

Enter Mark at Iron Man Records. After unprecedented support from Mark in preparing and releasing the album Mohawk by John Sinclair in 2014, he expressed interest in reviving the Beatnik Youth project from its zombie state. Three years later, in 2017, we can thank Mark, and Ian, and Youth and John for combined efforts to give the album a proper release and promotional campaign worthy of the material. Thanks are also due to Sean Newsham at Mutante for his excellent work on press, and to all the reviewers and writers who picked up on this sleeping giant.

In the space of three years this team of volunteers for the most part, led by Youth and Mark, created a separate mini-EP titled Beatnik Youth Ambient that featured two ambient remixes of tracks from the original session, plus two new works with material from Howard Marks and a new piece called ‘Do It’ by John. The album was mastered and pressed to 12” vinyl. Youth stayed up all night and drew the artwork himself depicting John among a whirlwind of illustrated 1960s psychedelic symbolism. Beatnik Youth Ambient was released July 28th, 2017. Pick up a slice of this historic wax and let it spin, you’ll be lifted I guarantee.

Beatnik Youth V. 2.0 is the new album, a deluxe double CD with re-mastered and re-edited tracks including the new recordings from Beatnik Youth Ambient resulting in 90 minutes of music. The album has been lovingly designed and constructed by Russ Clarke. If anyone is familiar with a Jack Kerouac 1st edition, or the events that unfolded in Detroit in July 1967 you may find this album interesting. The double CD with unlimited streaming and download is available now via BandCamp and will also be available from Cargo (see end notes).

And finally, to the music: “Testify,” opening like the doors to a Persian hash lounge, with piano and guitars and singers swaying to the breeze of the bard’s voice. The tale begins, the great world outlook of John Sinclair is accompanied by a chorus of cherubs repeating the word ‘testify.’ The poet returns with “friday the 13th,” a lament to Thelonious Monk and John Lennon, the tragedy spilling onto the keys, Alex Ward hammering and the guitar feedback building, the poem zooming to a grand concrescence of heart and head, leaving the listener engrossed. Drums dart in and out, the 2nd poem ends with a statement of intent for there to be more men like Monk and John Lennon, and that we should be able die when it’s time for us to die, not by some punk with a weapon. The drums return and the bard delivers “Fat Boy,” guitar feedback buzzing under another blistering poem critical of the American love affair with bombs and destruction, and the atrocity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Good Stuff. Classic British rock & roll, driven sideways by George Butler on drums and vamped up and out by a chorus of guitarists, the poet reads and bleeds for his friends, his music and loves, his poetry and beatnik lifestyle. The title of the poem ‘the screamers’ opens with ‘the screamers, stagger down overgrown sidewalks, of memory…” and goes on to juxtapose lyrics from Bo Diddley, paying homage to Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed, the foundations of modern Rock & Roll.

“Everybody Needs Somebody” returns with another locked rock beat boosted by the chorus of voices singing ‘Everybody Needs Somebody’ and a swell of organ keeping the tension. The poet dives into “monk in orbit,” a most delightful historical tale of Allen Ginsberg turning on Thelonious Monk to LSD, setting John in his element of Bebop and Beatnik legends colliding in history by way of a technicolored gyroscopic portal of poetry. Featuring Andrew Robinson on synth dotting some buzzed phrases and electric kool-aid to the brew. The bard returns with his own anecdote and ode to Allen Ginsberg, reaffirming the trio of Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as the beats who started it all.

“Change My Life” opens with another straight-ahead beat and the return of Angie Brown and the vocals searing underneath the bard, describing how and why early blues musicians would modify the beat, the tempo, and so change the whole feel of the song. Changing beats. Al Clayton, James Sedwards and Jesse Wood exchange riffs, as Mr. Pratt drags the beat through an indie pop swamp. An upbeat beat poem about changing beats.

“Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” Testament to the genius of Youth and how he can rearrange and compose music for poems, turning them into totally new beasts, bringing back the chorus of voices, guitars and stomping drums at all the right places. Short and sweet, wrapping up John’s testament to an individualist anarchist perspective—our right to our own bad habits, a provocative role call of examples.

“My Buddy,” the poet’s tribute to Henry Normile, describing the tragic murder in Detroit of his best friend, made brighter in verse by describing Marcus Belgrave, his upturned horn, and the snowflakes falling inside as Belgrave played for Henry’s funeral procession. Recalling Henry’s last wishes that dance off the tongue like acrobatic spit balls ‘Cocaine, Pussy and Lobster, in that order.’ The weight and depth of a friendship forged in Detroit, a litany, epitaph, the poet’s Buddy, Henry Normile. “A….fucking…men” James Sedwards takes a tight solo around the Zodiac, Angie Brown kicks into another dimension of harmony, soul in the spirit of Badu, the music closes the poem with a well pitched instrumental epilogue.

“That Old Man” oozes the bass beauty of Youth, soothing organ of Michael and the gentle crooning of Angie Brown, who breaks into a captivating vocal solo demonstrating her range and soul power. The drums sound like the work of Fly. The poet serves up feedback from the long winding roads and mystery of love and relations. In his gentle and authoritative tone, the poet opens with a line from fellow poet Robert Lowell, “living without you is like learning to walk.” The poem goes on to question the distance between ex-lovers, counting the blessings of family, friends, and co-conspirators, “that old man, / still alive and kicking / with both feet” Yeah yer’ right.

“Brilliant Corners.” Jettisons off into a bed of ambient jelly, as if John’s voice were slowed down 1000 times, the work of Youth and Michael Rendall exploring the interspace of the poetry, like electronic seagulls, and thunder far off in the distance, the tide of a new Blade Runner washing over the synths. The poet delivers a long poem detailing the trajectory of the beats, now familiar names from these poems, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs. Introducing each revolutionary writer with biographical and bibliographic precision. The deep knowing and passion for each and every character, now bringing the be-bop all stars off the page and into the music. Ambient angels the size of cruise ships howling just beneath the storm clouds, sunlight occasionally breaking through, shrieking upon the faces of the genius under observation. Pistons hiss, and synthesizers gurgle as the poet fills in the points on a road map to his life’s journey. The track is brought to a close with an epilogue by Mark Stewart.

“Culture-cide.” An upbeat Brit funk protest anthem, programmed by Primal Scream and featuring guitar by Keith Levine, with a chorus hook sung by the Scottish band The View, and a part sung by Bobby Gillespie, the song chugs along with some big hats and menacing synthesiser garnishing. More vocals appear courtesy of Robb Spragg, of Alabama 3, adding to the gang. The poet brings the latest feedback from the frontline of the war on some drugs in America, his poem “It’s All Good” presents some hope by paying full respects to all the growers and suppliers of cannabis in Amsterdam, at the Cannabis Cup, and all around the world. Just when you thought it was over, a familiar Welsh voice starts up, it’s Howard Marks, on an hilarious philosophical journey through some reasoning about the war on drugs. Howard explodes into a surrealist rollercoaster of observations and uncensored provocation.

“Red Dress” (“Ruby My Dear”). A softly spoken jazz delight, once again visiting the music of Thelonious Monk, here talking romance of the woman in the red dress. Alex Ward on keys, with big Al Clayton and James Sedwards cooing from the tree tops, a pair of guitar cats playing under moonlight. Angie Brown swoops down to deliver the soul from above, high up there in the sensual regions of soul. “The music is soft and sweet and deep with intelligence.” I, Fly, lay down some sweet brush strokes, and the band drift across the sleeping city moments before dawn.

“Sitarrtha.” Back in the great temple of music we started in, saxophones squeal and rise in the distance, percussion swirling like a desert dust devil. “What is jazz?” The bard asks, and then goes on to present alternative scenarios as to the what. “What is blues” and a similar answer.  I, fly, on drums with dampened sticks stroking the toms, breaking the beats. And the poem builds and charges up, bootstrapping from each previous statement, into the meat and the marrow of the listener. The saxophones reaching higher, the drums and percussion speed up, voices and saxophones shriek at each other. The bard walks straight into a pole, such is the force of the music. First hand experience of contact with John Coltrane, left in a John Coltrance. Leaving us with a choice to become as real as they are, those legendary musicians. The song and the poem demonstrate tension, build up and release respectively.

“Do It.” An ambient techno track produced by Youth and representative of his excursions into techno and electronica. John shares more advice on making it as an artist, retelling his experiences and then giving us the best advice he can, the only advice you can give: “Do It.” You have to make it through your actions, you have to get up and do these things which artists dream up, that is the perfect sentiment to summarize this album and the efforts to present it, for you, dear listener. Together with the time and money and logistics, it’s the willingness to do it, that made this all happen. Do it. Do it. Do it.

Beatnik Youth approaches a Magnum Opus in its reach, quality and totality. Here is the music and wefted into it, the history, a one-stop shop for first-hand feedback from the fabled 1960 cultural revolution, from John Sinclair, who Mick Farren so aptly called ‘The Last Of The Beatnik Warrior Poets.’ This album bridges British and American culture, outside of the mainstream channels, producing a lasting testament to our rebellious ancestors and innovators of hip.

—Steven Pratt
Amsterdam, 2017

John Sinclair – “Beatnik Youth” on Double CD released 2017 by Iron Man Records.

All Press enquiries to Sean Newsham :

Catalogue Number: IMB6032

Label: Iron Man Records

Distribution: Cargo

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